CONCORD- Gov. Pat McCrory recently signed a bill that eases access to a drug that can reverse the overdose effects of heroin and opium-based drugs. The usage of these drugs is on the rise in North Carolina and Cabarrus County.
McCrory signed Senate Bill 734 at the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office. The bill creates a statewide standing order from the state’s health director for any pharmacy to prescribe naloxone, also known as Narcan. According to a press release from the Governor’s Office, this is a life-saving opioid reversal drug that has already saved 3,000 North Carolinians.
The legislation represents an early accomplishment of the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Use, which delivered a report to Gov. McCrory in May recommending expanding the capacity for opioid treatment services, medications and overdose prevention, such as naloxone.
Healthy Cabarrus Substance Use Coalition leads the way
The Cabarrus Health Alliance and its partners have been working to give more people access to naxolone since 2013 when the results of a county community needs assessment showed that substance abuse was on the rise in Cabarrus County. The alliance’s Healthy Cabarrus Substance Use Coalition has taken charge of getting naxolone to those who need it most.
“The coalition represents people from all sectors of the community. We have people from the school system, local pharmacies, law enforcement, EMS and many others,” Marcella Beam, public information officer for the Cabarrus Health Alliance said. “They have been meeting for the last few years, working on different things and one of those is making naxolone more accessible in Cabarrus County.”
Naxolone is used to treat a narcotic overdose in an emergency situation. It can be given with an injection or with a nasal spray and is covered by Medicaid and many private insurance plans. North Carolina is now the third state besides Maryland and Pennsylvania with similar standing orders.
“If someone is overdosing and they are blue and you notice they have stopped breathing, there is an injection kit. You do a sternum rub on them and if they are still coherent they would respond. If they don’t respond you give them the first dose on naxolone, then call 911. In a few minutes if they didn’t come to, you give them a second dose,” Beam said. “And if they aren’t overdosing, this drug won’t cause death. It won’t cause them any harm.”
In North Carolina, more than 1,000 people die each year from prescription opioid and heroin overdoses. One out of four autopsies performed by state medical examiners are on those who deaths are from drug overdose.
Kristin Klinglesmith, coordinator of the Healthy Cabarrus Substance Use Coalition, said there were 22 deaths related to overdoses in Cabarrus County in 2014. That year there were 444 calls made to Cabarrus County EMS due to poison and naxolone was used 234 times. In 2015, there were 422 calls due to poison and naxolone was administered 310 times.
With the help of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, the Healthy Cabarrus Substance Use Coalition has participated in two distribution days where it distributed about 240 naxolone kits to residents of the McLeod Addictive Disease Center. The coalition is planning another distribution day for September.
“We partner with them because those individuals could potentially overdose and we want to make sure they have it,” Beam said.
It could be anyone
Beam said the coalition wants to get naxolone to as many people as possible because prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction has no face, since most people have some sort of prescription drugs in their home.
“There is such a strong correlation between prescription drug abuse and an individual beginning to use heroin,” Beam said. “There is no specific face linked to heroin because it is related to prescription drug use. Wealthy people, low income people and people in any neighborhood can become addicted. It’s not a specific population or demographic. When you are providing education in the community, you have to make sure you get it to everyone.”
Klinglesmith said prescription drug use can happen to anyone, and in many cases they are prescribed those drugs by doctors.
“A lot of people that use got them in legitimate form, you just don’t know how it is going to impact the body,” Klinglesmith said. “Prescription opioids tend to be a gateway to heroin once those prescription drugs become harder to get. Heroin is easier to get and a lot cheaper. And prescription drugs have similar effects to heroin when taken in ways other than prescribed.”
Where to get naxolone in Cabarrus County
The Healthy Cabarrus Substance Use Coalition is working in partnership with Cannon Pharmacy and Moose Pharmacy, both of which have agreed to have their own standing orders. That means Cabarrus citizens can purchase naxolone at those pharmacies without a prescription.
Klinglesmith said the Cabarrus Health Alliance is also working to create its own standing order.
“We hope that in the coming months, CHA will have a standing order so people come here and receive a kit,” Klinglesmith said. “We are working on a distribution plan to determine how we are going to do that. We will also have to train staff to be responsible for that.”
Beam and Klinglesmith are excited about this new legislation and hope it will save lives in the community and give drug users a second chance to turn their lives around.
“People have different opinions on it. Some say it gives addicts the chance to use again because they gotten a free pass. I think it gives people a chance to realize what just happened and a chance to turn things around,” Beam said. “It’s definitely being used in the community and saving lives.”
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